In the month since Volodymyr Zelenskyy's election as the President of Ukraine, the comedian turned politician has been accused of sexism, plagiarism and arbitrarily interpreting the constitution and laws. He has run into a fountain and invited journalists to tour the Presidential Administration, which he wants to vacate and turn into a museum. Meanwhile, on the international front, Zelenskyy continues his predecessor’s course towards integration with the European Union and NATO.
Hromadske recaps the key moments of Zelenskyy’s first month in office.
Dissolution of Parliament
Zelenskyy started to change the political landscape immediately after he took the president's oath. He began the inaugural speech with a declaration that every Ukrainian is president and responsible for the country, and finished with an announcement about the dissolution of the 8th convocation of parliament.
Leaders of parliamentary factions and groups Maxim Bourbaki, Vitaliy Khomutynnik, Yaroslav Moskalenko, Oleh Bereziuk and Oksana Syroyid after meeting with the President of Ukraine in Kyiv on May 21, 2019. Photo: Volodymyr Hontar/UNIAN
The next day, there was a mandatory consultation with the heads of different factions and a decree on the appointment of snap parliamentary elections on July 21.
It was at this meeting that Zelenskyy proposed to hold parliamentary elections exclusively under the proportional representation system with closed party lists and to lower the entry barrier from five percent to three. Despite calling on the parliament to adopt the electoral code and open lists under the proportional system just the day before. However, the parliament did not support Zelenskyy’s bill on holding elections with closed lists.
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy (C) during a meeting of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine, Kyiv, June 11, 2019. Photo: EPA-EFE/SERGEY DOLZHENKO
The election campaign began on May 24, the day after the presidential decree was published. However, 62 MPs from the People’s Front party lodged an appeal against the decree on dissolving parliament with the Constitutional Court and asked it to consider the issue within 30 days. So it was unclear whether the snap parliamentary elections would happen until June 20 when the court ruled the decrees to dissolve the parliament and hold the elections as constitutional.
The main and so far most scandalous appointment by Zelenskyy has been head of his administration, Andriy Bohdan, who is associated with oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky.
Head of Presidential Administration Andriy Bogdan following President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s consultations with leaders of parliamentary factions and groups, Kyiv, May 21, 2019. Photo: Volodymyr Hontar/UNIAN
Under the law on the cleansing of power, he is not allowed to head the administration since he was an ombudsman working on anti-corruption policy for more than a year in Mykola Azarov’s government (2010 -2014). The deputy head of the presidential administration, a former member of the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption, Ruslan Ryaboshapka, explained that the law on the cleansing of power did not apply to Bohdan because he was not a public servant.
Deputy Minister of Justice Serhiy Petukhov took a different position. He was surprised that representatives of the presidential team were invoking the law on civil service, despite the law on cleansing power clearly stating that the head of the administration was subject to it. In the end, Ryaboshapka agreed that Zelenskyy would fire Bohdan – but only after the Constitutional Court recognized that the law on lustration was in line with the constitution. And until then, the head of state cannot apply the law, which "contradicts the principle of the rule of law and does not comply with the constitution."
The Deputy Minister of Justice paid a heavy price for his stance: Zelenskyy did not send Petukhov to a conference on private international law in The Hague, where he was also supposed to lead a Ukrainian delegation.
Zelenskyy surrounded himself with "his" people. Former partners of his Kvartal 95 television studio and those from his election headquarters snapped up senior positions in the Presidential Administration and became advisers to the head of state. Former head of the Better Regulation Delivery Office, Oleksiy Honcharuk, who became Bohdan’s deputy for economic issues and Ukraine’s ambassador to NATO Vadym Prystaiko, who is in charge of foreign economic affairs at the administration, are perhaps the only new faces.
First Deputy Head of Ukraine’s Security Service Ivan Bakanov at a briefing in Kyiv on June 3, 2019. Photo: Inna Sokolovska/UNIAN
Zelenskyy failed to fill his quota within the government: parliament refused to dismiss Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin and Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak. They also didn’t get the votes for the resignation of the head of Ukraine’s Security Service Vasyl Hrytsak. So his administration decided to take another route. They appointed Servant of the People party founder Ivan Bakanov to the role of First Deputy Chief of Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) and head of the Main Directorate for Combating Corruption and Organized Crime. While introducing Bakanov's appointment, Zelenskyy stated that the new SBU first deputy chief will have two weeks to "restart" the security service and deal with smuggling. Zelenskyy completely forgot about the point in his election campaign program which stated that the security service "will not deal with economic crimes."
Head of Ukraine’s Foreign Intelligence Service Vladyslav Bukhariev (R) in the Ukrainian parliament in Kyiv on December 20, 2016. Photo: UNIAN
Meanwhile, the appointment of a Batkivschyna MP, Vladyslav Bukhariev, as the head of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine shows the kind of political powers the president is expecting to count on in the next parliament.
Zelenskyy’s first attempt to find a common language with the parliament after signing the decree on its dissolution and snap elections failed. Bills on closed list elections (as opposed to the mixed system that is used now) and the withdrawal of procurement by the Central Election Commission from the law on public procurement were not even included in the agenda.
Next came an attempt at writing a draft law on impeachment. The document details a procedure for removing the president from office, which could be greatly drawn out. Although the draft law was registered, MPs did not include it on the agenda.
They however did consider and adopt a draft law on temporary investigation commissions, which provides for the impeachment procedure. The document was signed by the speaker of the parliament Andriy Parubiy. Zelenskyy can now veto the bill or sign it. Doing nothing is not an option, because the principle of tacit consent comes in and after 15 days the law is published and comes into force.
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the parliament meeting room on the day of his inauguration, Kyiv, June 11, 2019 Photo: EPA-EFE/SERGEY DOLZHENKO
Another bill from the president is on illegal enrichment. The issue emerged after a Constitutional Court ruling, which found that the relevant article of the criminal code didn’t comply with the Basic Law. In his bill, Zelenskyy proposed that criminal liability should only be imposed when the amount of illegal assets exceed 12,000 non-taxable minimum income of citizens (which at the moment of writing was more than 11.5 million hryvnia or $425,900). However, changes in the Civil Procedure Code will allow confiscating or levying so-called unjustified assets into state revenue if their value exceeds the official salary and cost of living by 500 times (960,500 hryvnia or $35,500). However, this bill was not included on the agenda, too, despite illegal enrichment being one of the conditions of cooperation between Ukraine and the IMF.
Two other presidential bills on amending the law on alternative energy sources and the electricity market appeared to be aimed at papering over cracks. The first bill aimed to give households back the right to claim a ‘green tariff’ for establishing ground-based solar power plants. The second aimed to postpone the launch of the electricity market, which should de jure happen on July 1. However, in reality, nothing was ready for it anyway.
Zelenskyy’s first foreign business trip was in Brussels. On June 4 and 5, he met with the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, the Head of the European Council Donald Tusk and the President of Poland Andrzej Duda.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy meets with the head of the European Council Donald Tusk, Brussels, Belgium, June 4, 2019. Photo: EPA-EFE / OLIVIER HOSLET
During the meetings, the president voiced this key message: Ukraine is still striving to become a full member of the European Union and NATO. The European press called Zelenskyy a "new president with an old course." In matters concerning foreign policy, of course.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy shakes the hand of the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during their joint press conference in Brussels, Belgium on June 4, 2019. Photo: EPA-EFE / STEPHANIE LECOCQ
The visit was not without incidents. Zelenskyy, word for word, repeated a part of his predecessor Petro Poroshenko’s speech from the congress of the European Solidarity Party. The Presidential Administration called this a case of sabotage by Foreign Ministry employees and promised to conduct an internal investigation.
Next, Zelenskyy headed to Paris. On June 17, he met with French President Emmanuel Macron. They discussed the implementation of the Minsk agreements and a possible meeting in the Normandy format.
The President of France Emmanuel Macron (L) greets the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a meeting at the Élysée Palace in Paris, France on June 17, 2019. Photo: EPA-EFE/JULIEN DE ROSA
Zelenskyy also declared that Ukraine would not be negotiating directly with Russia-backed separatists. He also called on the Russian leadership to release all Ukrainian prisoners and implement the decision of the International Tribunal and release the detained Ukrainian sailors.
More specifics about the negotiations in the Normandy format emerged the next day during a meeting between Zelenskyy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. They could take place on July 12.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a joint press conference in Berlin, Germany, June 18, 2019 Photo: EPA-EFE / HAYOUNG JEON
During his visit to Germany, the president appealed to German officials and business representatives with a request not to weaken the sanctions.
“I urge anyone who campaigns for the lifting of sanctions to come to Donbas and see how much grief this war has brought Ukrainians. Look at Crimea, which has transformed from a tourist region to a real military camp,” Zelenskyy said in an interview with a publication called Bild.
/By Fedir Prokopchuk
/Translated by Natalie Vikhrov